By: Jeremy Klotz, Director
One of the hallmarks of a GUCI summer experience is the Shabbat celebration. It is our ultimate expression of community. In addition to our staff and campers, Shabbat is a time when we are typically joined by many guests at camp; some wanting to witness and participate in Shabbat at camp for the first time, and others yearning to relive the camp experiences of their past. Shabbat is also a litmus test for how well we are building community. As our campers and staff build relationships and become more familiar with each other and our camp program, our Shabbat celebrations become more spirited and unified.
The highlight of Shabbat, at least for me, is our shira (song session). These song sessions are events that start slow and soft, build to a spirited crescendo, and finish with some of the most beautiful harmonies. Everyone in the community lends their voice and harmony to the group, arms around each other. It is very moving. It symbolizes the intentionality and love with which we aim to build our community. We end each Shabbat evening with a big bonfire and more singing.
Many of the songs we sing on Shabbat are rooted in Hebrew. We learn them throughout the session, including their meanings and translations. Some come directly from Torah or prayer books. We use the lessons of those songs as a blueprint for how to treat each other. One song, in particular, strikes me as particularly appropriate given how we build community at camp, and given what’s going on in the United States as of late.
Olam Chesed Yibaneh
I will build this world from love . . .
And you will build this world from love . . .
And if we build this world from love . . .
Then God will build this world from love . . .
There are a few interpretations of the Hebrew word, “chesed.” It can mean “love”, “grace”, or “respect.” At GUCI, and at the many other URJ camps around the nation and in Canada, the primary tenet of community building is chesed, with any or all of the aforementioned definitions. To have a cohesive group, and to allow that group to grow in a positive way, the people in that group must learn to act in a graceful way, loving, or at the very least respecting, one another. When people in a group subscribe to this tenet, the environment created is one of inclusion, encouragement, optimism and creativity. The teachings in the song above suggest that if we are guided by the principles of chesed, God will build a world of grace, love and respect.
For any group, it is essential that the leadership set the tone. If the leadership acts gracefully, showing respect and love for the people in the group, and if leaders demand that the people below do the same, then there is a reasonably good chance that the sentiment will flow downhill; the essential “lead by example.” I believe it far more difficult when the group is begging the leaders to act gracefully and to treat others with respect.
It fills me with pride to work for the Union for Reform Judaism, an organization built on the principle of chesed. I am thrilled to be part of a team of camps, youth programs, Israel experiences and congregations that help young people model graceful and respectful interactions, and that build community based on those principles. We all need to do our part to ensure that the young people we influence today, who will become the leaders of the next 10 – 20 years, understand the power of chesed and the divisiveness and worrisome downsides of a lack thereof. Unfortunately, as of late, there seem to be far too many examples of the latter in the world. Chesed is strong at GUCI, and we are extremely proud of it!